While there are many reasons to catch New Horizon Theater’s production of Lotto: Experience the Dream, the biggest is the chance to see local leading lady Chrystal Bates in all her glory. Her character, a combination of sexy mama and common-sense matriarch, gives full rein to Bates’ range and talents.
The 1991 comedy, written by the late Cliff Roquemore and adapted/updated by his son Bryan, concerns (no surprise) a family upended by a winning lottery ticket. The first act introduces us to the Benson family, headed by Horace (Kevin Brown), a hard-working employee of the Pittsburgh Water & Sewer Authority, trying to assert his own authority over his three adult children, a querulous sister and his loving and much-loved wife (Bates). Each has a dream.
Elder son J.R. (Corey Lankford) conjures get-rich-quick schemes for wealth and success. Brother Spike (Sundiata Rice) raps about money. Daughter Nett (Cheryl Bates, daughter of Chrystal) wants to save the world. Aunt Mildred (Karla Payne) just wants an artificial leg so that she can leave her wheelchair. All that — and more — seems possible when Horace realizes in a tightly choreographed and occasionally surreal end to Act I, that he has won $99 million.
New Horizon guest director Eileen J. Morris, artistic director of the Ensemble Theatre in Houston (where she directed Lotto in 2011), paces the sometimes frenetic comedy expertly, and respects the family without cheap sentimentality. She makes the most of her cast. Brown croons heart-melting soul classics. Rice captures the moves of rap. Payne is hilarious as a pain.
Let’s not forget the rest of the ensemble: Charles Timbers Jr. as Horace’s devoted coworker and friend; Art Terry as a semi-reliable thug; Ian Insect as the nerdly white guy in love with Nett; and, most especially, the surprise appearance of local stage favorite Jonathan Berry. The design and tech crews give their best.
Hilarious and heartwarming, Lotto mixes physical comedy and amusing references to black American culture for an experience worth enjoying.